COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last season, Ohio State fans got the smallest possible taste of what could come from pairing J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber in the backfield together.
In 2018, with Weber healthy and Dobbins much more of a known commodity, a two-back set could be a much more common occurrence.
Speculation of such a formation began almost immediately upon Weber’s return from a hamstring injury. It only intensified when Weber’s explosiveness returned and Dobbins continued the torrid start to his career. At times, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer did little to extinguish such hopes. Prior to the UNLV game, he said that putting Weber and Dobbins in the backfield together could lead to unprecedented results.
“If they’re both refreshed and ready to go, I don’t know that we’ve ever had that [potential] like that,” Meyer said.
But such a formation never materialized until the final game of the 2017 season in the Cotton Bowl, when Ohio State put Weber and Dobbins on the field together for exactly one play right after halftime.
Ironically, neither running back got the ball on that play. An end-around to H-back Parris Campbell, who was sprung free in part by a block from Dobbins, went for a 21-yard gain.
Dobbins said the Buckeyes didn’t start practicing it until after the regular season last year, putting in some looks for the matchup against USC in the Cotton Bowl. And while it was only used once in that game, Weber believes the formation will be more frequently deployed this fall.
“We started on it towards the end of last year but we couldn’t get to it because of how the game went,” Weber said. “I feel like we will get to it a lot this year.
“We have been working on it a lot, especially early in the spring. We added a lot of different plays to it. They have been working really good for us, and hopefully we get back to it.”
Sharing space in the backfield would be nothing new for Dobbins. In his sophomore season at La Grange (Texas) High School, he rushed for 2,243 yards and 37 touchdowns. Amazingly, he didn’t even lead his team in carries that season. Eventual Texas State signee Bralon Hutchison shared the backfield with Dobbins and received the majority of the carries.
“We had them on the field together all the time,” La Grange coach Matt Kates said. “We had our Blackjack sets with 21 personnel where both of them were back there together, and it was tough on people for sure.”
With two extremely talented backs, Ohio State could potentially reap the rewards of doubling the amount of playmakers in the backfield at certain times. Running backs coach Tony Alford said during spring practice that the Buckeyes put that look “in the arsenal,” which certainly feels like an appropriate term.
“It brings explosiveness,” Dobbins said. “I feel like defenses won’t know what to do against it.”